November 18, 2015

'Words Are More Powerful Than Munitions':
A Timely, Timeless Dispatch from Paris 

By Albert Camus


In November 1946, the novelist Albert Camus published a series of eight essays in the Parisian newspaper Combat, to which he had begun contributing, anonymously, during the resistance to the Nazi occupation of France. The essays appeared under the headline “Neither Victims nor Executioners,” and represented Camus’s attempt to define a political morality responsive to what he called, in the first of those essays, “The Century of Fear.”

Recent terrorist violence in cities around the globe, culminating in last week’s suicide bombings in Beirut and murderous attacks in Paris, have prompted Urban Matters to present some excerpts from “Neither Victims nor Executioners.”


We are being torn apart by a logic of history which we have elaborated in every detail, a net which threatens to strangle us…. To save what can be saved so as to open up some kind of future--that is the prime mover, the passion and the sacrifice that is required. It demands only that we reflect and then decide, clearly, whether humanity's lot must be made still more miserable in order to achieve far-off and shadowy ends, whether we should accept a world bristling with arms where brother kills brother; or whether, on the contrary, we should avoid bloodshed and misery as much as possible so that we give a chance for survival to later generations better equipped than we are....

Yes, it is fear and silence and the spiritual isolation they cause that must be fought today. And it is sociability and the universal inter-communication of men that must be defended. Slavery, injustice, and lies destroy this intercourse and forbid this sociability; and so we must reject them. But these evils are today the very stuff of history, so that many consider them necessary evils. It is true that we cannot "escape history," since we are in it up to our necks....
All I ask is that, in the midst of a murderous world, we agree to reflect on murder and to make a choice. After that, we can distinguish those who accept the consequences of being murderers themselves or the accomplices of murderers, and those who refuse to do so with all their force and being. Since this terrible dividing line does actually exist, it will be a gain if it be clearly marked. Over the expanse of five continents throughout the coming years an endless struggle is going to be pursued between violence and friendly persuasion, a struggle in which, granted, the former has a thousand times the chances of success than that of the latter. But I have always held that, if he who bases his hopes on human nature is a fool, he who gives up in the face of circumstances is a coward. And henceforth, the only honorable course will be to stake everything on a formidable gamble: that words are more powerful than munitions.

Used by permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers.